Zakir Naik Or Indian Islamic Clerics: Who Is The Bigger Hypocrite?
There is no difference between the Indian Maulanas and Zakir Naik except that the former cloak their utterances in the silk robes of sophistry, whereas Zakir Naik is direct and crass.
It is the season of outrage. In keeping with the Indian tradition of “maximum noise, minimum action” a whole lot of sound and fury has been spent on dissecting Zakir Naik, the self-professed televangelist. Naik has been around for at least a decade, and many have even tended to dismiss him as a stand-up comic. His ghastly sartorial sense, a theatrical style of Q&A before made-up audiences, and an unwillingness to debate except in front of his own chosen audience has left him with little credibility with the discerning. He possesses this style of quoting from various scriptures of other religions and then quoting from the Qur’an and other Shari’a Books, to establish what he dubs as the “Truth of Islam.”
On the other hand, you have the gladiatorial Maulanas and followers of Qasim Razvi and Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami. Razvi was famous for proclaiming that “Muslims have the right to enslave Hindus.” After the liberation of Hyderabad, he was tried under the Indian laws and was released under the condition that he would leave India for Pakistan. He was also the President of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) at the time of India’s independence and openly advocated accession of Hyderabad with Pakistan, on the principles of Shari’a. Abul A’la Maududi was instrumental in getting the Ahmadiyyas declared as non-Muslims in Pakistan— the same demand which was made by the Mirwaiz of Kashmir recently. The same Jamaat-e-Islami has, today, hijacked the Islamic narrative of Kashmir Valley but you do not hear a squeak from Indian Islamic clerics against them.
These political Islamists and many of the Maulanas, who appear on TV debates, unapologetically extol Mahmud Ghaznavi, Mohammad Ghori and Aurangzeb as their heroes. The reason is not far to seek. These rulers fashioned themselves as the soldiers of Jihad, the Mujahideen, and Maulanas have to believe in the philosophy of armed jihad because that is what the holy books teach. They don’t let a contrary viewpoint be even spoken, let alone be discussed. They are all invited to debates day in and day out. There is no difference between the Maulanas and Zakir Naik except that the former cloak their utterances in the silk robes of sophistry, whereas Zakir Naik is direct and crass.
Thus, while we have this great spectacle of Zakir Naik being slammed from every corner by the Maulanas— after it transpired that two of the Bangladeshi terror merchants, involved in the Holey Artisan Bakery killings, were inspired by him— let us consider the pronouncements made by Akbaruddin Owaisi. They are exactly on the same lines as Zakir Naik, probably in a much more insulting tone. People would remember Akbaruddin Owaisi’s statements on Hindu gods and goddesses. Zakir Naik’s statement on Ganesha is benign by comparison but did we hear anything of the nature of outrage that Zakir Naik is being subjected to?
So who are the Maulanas trying to fool?
The issue of ISIS and Zakir Naik is being interpreted in India in theological terms, whereas it should be done regarding Rule of Law. Article 25 gives the no blanket right of propagation of religion on public platforms. Article 25 is a secondary Fundamental Right. It is made subject not only to public order, morality and health but also to the other Fundamental Rights. Nobody can insult another person in a public place.
As far as Islam is concerned, one may like to ponder over its fundamental statement: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his Messenger” as a supremely, holy command to the followers but could equally be construed as deeply offensive to followers of other religions. However, nobody finds it a problem if it is practised within the confines of prayer halls and homes. The Constitution is violated every day when “Allah is the Greatest” is imposed upon crores of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and followers of other smaller religions, through loudspeakers. The suspicion grows every day that, ultimately, the Maulanas have a political agenda. So what Zakir Naik is doing is only carrying this attitude forward.
When Zakir Naik says that it is legal to kill Kaafirs (unbelievers), he is only interpreting the verses of the Qur’an such as 5:32-33, 8:12 and 8:39, together with a host of others in the ninth Surah, At-Tawba. (5:32 is often cited as an example of deep compassion, but all compassion in Shari’a Law is reserved for believers. Unbelievers are, by default, guilty). There are tens of other verses which prescribe punishments against Shirk (idolatry) and against Jews and Christians. The Qur’an is contextualised by the Hadis (Hadith is the Arabic transliteration) which are the collection of traditions and sayings of the Prophet, and Sira (Seerat-e-Rasool) which is the biography of the Prophet. Together, these three Books form the Shari’a Law (or Shariat). Shari’a is considered immutable by the Muslim clerics. To add to that, except the Hanbali/Salafi/Ahl al-Hadis school, all other Islamic Law schools (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Shia Jaffri) follow the principle of Taqlid which means that people have to follow the interpretation given by the official clerics.
Most of the criticism of Zakir Naik, coming from the Deobandi and Barelvi Muslims, is not on the account of him spewing hate in a secular country, run by a Constitution. It is because he is Ghair-Muqallid (non-follower of Taqlid) and is not an officially trained cleric. Barelvis and their Sufi persuasions, as also Shi’a and their Sufi persuasions, criticise him mainly on sectarian considerations. They accuse him of misinterpretation, but not one gets up to acknowledge that he is only bringing into the open what is written in the Shari’a Books.
It is not as if the narrow compass of teachings have not existed in other persuasions, but Indian Dharmic traditions and every other religion have been open to discussing reform. Christians and Hindus have reformed themselves significantly and, except for some fringe elements, are open to debating their weaknesses. India has always had an eclectic culture of discussion and arguments. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism have many variations which are equally accepted.
Unfortunately, in Islam, Ijtihad or “reform of the scriptures” received a mortal blow in the second half of the ninth to tenth century after the decline of the Mu’tazila movement, under the early Abbasid Caliphs. This rationalist movement had institutionalised inquiry and questioning of interpretations of the Qur’an by clerics. Considering the fact that all the Hadiths were compiled in the period between 700-900 AD, these internal dissensions and the attitudes of the Caliphs would surely have dictated their course. The Mu’tazila movement collapsed in the late 11th century when Islamic fundamentalism gained ground as the Crusades hit the Abbasids, and Jerusalem fell in 1099 AD. This coincided with the rise of Al-Ghazali (died in 1111), who co-operated with the Abbasid Caliphs to end Ijtihad. After the Abbasid empire was run over by the Mongols in 1258 AD, Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1358) sounded its death knell by bringing into prominence Hanbali thought.
Salafis, today, are all beholden to this man for ending all debate in Arabia. So much so that any questioning of the Qur’an or Shari’a became punishable by death. Abdul Wahhab in Nejd and Shah Waliullah in India continued the Ibn Taymiyyah tradition. These attitudes only solidified fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, even as the rise of the Western world began with Renaissance and the separation of the Church from the State. Anyone trying reform has been brutalised ever since. They find some difficulties in India as Salafis/Wahhabis follow the Hanbali school of Fiqh (Islamic Law) whereas 99 percent of Indian Muslims follow the Hanafi school. In the Hanbali tradition— also called Salafi, Wahhabi or Ahl al-Hadis— taqlid or “clerical interpretation” is not important. It is this sectarian consideration which makes Indian clerics oppose Zakir Naik, not any genuine impulse for Ijtihad or reform.
Indian influences greatly shaped the Barelvis, but even they do not attempt a new context to the Shari’a. Jihad is equally important to them. Their founder, Ahmad Raza Barelvi, led the jihad against Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the name of Islam. Allama Iqbal did advocate Ijtihad in the 20th century. He was deeply perturbed by the decline of the Ummah as a force and thought religious fanaticism of Muslims to be the cause. His dalliance was short lived as he went on to create the doctrine of Pakistan. He again brought to fore the Shari’a principle that Muslims would be safe only in Dar al-Islam (House of Islam), sometimes called Dar al-Salam (House of Peace), as opposed to Dar al-Harb (House of War) where Muslims are the minority. Shari’a provides that it is the duty of every Muslim to be in a state of Dar al-Harb when he is the minority, and to practise the principle of Duraira (necessity) till he can convert it into Dar al-Islam so that he can then live under Shari’a Law.
This is what Zakir Naik is doing openly. Owaisi’s party was founded on the same principle in 1936, but he now proclaims himself beholden to the Constitution of India. Many Indians would think that his actions do not appear to be in consonance with his statements.
Thus, the labours of people like Zakir Naik are supplemented by people like Akbaruddin Owaisi and various Islamic clerics, who fasten their scriptures to a timeless context. Anyone who talks about reform through Ijtihad is promptly shouted down or even issued death threats. Kalbe Sadiq does talk of Ijtihad but he, being a Shi’a, is easily termed as a Kaafir by the majority Sunnis. Wahhabis and Ahl al-Hadith clerics, in any case, dub Barelvis, Sufis, Shi’a, Ahmadi, Ismaili (constituting 90 percent of the Muslim population in the Indian sub-continent) as Kaafirs and even Murtad (apostate).
There are some faint voices calling for Ijtihad. People like Tarek Fatah, Tufail Ahmad and Sultan Shahin are, but a few one can mention. In fact, the majority opinion among Muslim clerics is that they are best defenestrated. One even heard its echo in the Parliament from most unexpected quarters. The State, however, has to make sure that this poison faces the full force of the Rule of Law. There should not be a feeling in the majority community that political correctness is making the State softer towards transgressions, as this can turn the scenario tricky.
There is a Salafi/Ahl al-Hadith penetration in the Kashmir Valley and pockets of Kerala. They are preaching exactly what Zakir Naik is preaching. Whether we accept it or not, there is a feeling of alarm in the rest of the country. Public opinion is veering round to the view that what is happening in the Valley is part of the global Islamic jihad. That, of course, is only part of the story as there were no Salafis around in 1989-1990, when Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of the Valley. The memories of Direct Action Day and Partition riots may not be fresh, but have remained etched in the memories of Indians, as also the fact that it was the mainland India Muslims who bred and nurtured the “Two Nation Theory.” There were no Salafis at that time either. It would be vain to contend that these ideas are coming out of thin air. Zakir Naik, of the Salafi colour, is relying on the same sources as Akbaruddin Owaisi. Yet, Maulanas condemn ISIS but not Akbar Owaisi.
Rule of Law can be an effective antidote to fissiparous tendencies, but one finds it used only as per the convenience of the ruling dispensations in the States. The anodyne, nearly indifferent, attitude among the political elite is not a good sign. West Bengal’s drift into anti-national activities is but a symptom of this disease of political correctness.
The Zakir Naiks and majority Maulanas are part of the global Islamist renaissance. This is the obverse which has its violent converse in jihadism. So, unless the clerics are willing to carry out Ijtihad, they are only speaking of the same philosophy as Zakir Naik, but cloaked in democracy and legalese. This is more dangerous than the open hate being preached by Zakir Naik.
This piece was originally published here and has been republished with permission.
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